PDA

View Full Version : A meal for a family of mid 19th century ranchers



stupidname1313
06-03-2016, 07:32 AM
Hello. I was wondering what a family of poor ranchers would have for dinner in the late 1850s or early 1860s. Thank you.

Katharine Tree
06-03-2016, 08:07 AM
What country?

blacbird
06-03-2016, 09:20 AM
Where? What time of year? Your question is way too broad.

And "ranchers" implies people who raise livestock. Most frontier settlers in the mid-19th century were farmers, not ranchers. Rural people grew much of their own food. And probably hunted as well.

caw

stupidname1313
06-03-2016, 09:30 AM
What country?

America

Evangeline
06-03-2016, 09:38 AM
Beans and salt pork. Possibly a hard form of cornbread. Food that could be prepared quickly over a fire in one skillet.

And you really ought to narrow down the geographic location. Poor people in more urban regions could buy the leftover, slightly rotting produce from local peddlers. That would probably be more difficult in sparser, rural areas.

blacbird
06-03-2016, 09:53 AM
America

North or South?

caw

King Neptune
06-03-2016, 05:22 PM
It also depends on time of year. If they'd been living somewhere for several years, then they probably would have a kitchen garden that might have good food, depending on the time of year. They might also have been hunting, and goats were common among ranchers.

Katharine Tree
06-03-2016, 06:33 PM
Are they ranching sheep or cattle?

Okay. As an American, "ranch" makes me think northern plains. As others have said, game, if they could get it: any number of fowl, jackrabbits, antelope, maybe even bison. Fish, during the warm months. If they're ranching cattle, they have dairy available to them: milk, buttermilk, butter, cream, cheese. I've never particularly heard of American ranchers using sheep's milk, but look into it. I assume they eat some of their own beef or mutton, though maybe only at slaughter-time. Cornmeal, made into hasty pudding or cornbread. Beans. Wheat flour would have been rarer, and would have been quite dark compared to regular white flour today. Garden vegetables, especially peas, beans, lettuce, and radishes in the springtime, tomatoes and ground-cherries in the summer, and pumpkins, peppers, squash, potatoes, onions, and cabbage in the fall/winter. Research what fruit was native to your area--I'm not familiar enough with the northern plains to rattle anything off the top of my head, though Laura Ingalls talks about plums in Minnesota.

A particularly popular dish was fricassee. Look it up. Wild rabbits need to be stewed low and slow to be worth eating. Remember that unless it's freezing outside or your people have tons of salt (which they won't,) meat has to be smoked or else eaten immediately. They won't have a ton of sugar for making preserves, either. I assume, being ranchers, their main cooking fat will be tallow.

1850s/1860s would have been before the railroads came to most of the northern plains. That means everything had to be carted out by wagon, which means there was very little commercial carting-out at all, so if your family have been on their ranch long term, you can scuttle the idea of salt pork and white flour, and tell us they tried to grow corn and beans (though if a piece of land is being ranched instead of farmed, there's a reason: it doesn't farm well.) Barbed wire wasn't invented until 1867, and until then, ranching was not as profitable a business as was afterward. Also, remember the Civil War happened 1861-1865. The northern plains weren't geographically involved in it, but the Union was preoccupied.

blacbird
06-03-2016, 09:44 PM
Timing, in terms of the year(s) of your setting, is crucial. The railroads didn't connect across the West until just after the Civil War. Before that, it was all wagons, with wagon trains traversing to California gold fields (discovered in 1848) and Oregon. Many of the settlers moving west were refugees from Europe, where wars were driving them out. These included a lot of Germans, Scandinavians, Czechs, Hungarians, nearly all of whom were originally farmers. John Deere had invented the steel plow in 1837, and that device was crucial to farming in the plains region because it could break up the deep prairie sod in a way the old wooden plow could not. And the newly-plowed sod in places like Iowa and Nebraska, where the major settlement was happening around 1850, was extremely fertile.

Ranching, farther west generally, didn't come into play as much until cattle could more easily be transported, and that involved the railroads, which were penetrating westward slowly throughout the mid 1800s. And, as mentioned, got established in areas where farming was more difficult, owing generally to drier climate in the western Great Plains.

So there's a lot of historical research you need to do to set your story with factual accuracy. But there are also a lot of resources available. Go research some.

caw

Bu

Siri Kirpal
06-03-2016, 11:56 PM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

"Ranchers" would probably grow most of their own stuff, including meat, so they wouldn't be going hungry, except possibly in spring.

If there are apples on the property or near it, they would keep a barrel of them in the basement or outdoor cold cellar; and they'd eat the bad ones first to keep those from infecting the rest.

My grandmother, born in 1890 and raised on a farm in non-electrified rural Missourah, told me about things like growing their own popcorn, wearing rhubarb leaves as a play "hat" (rhubarb stems make great pies, but the leaves are mildly toxic). They weren't real poor. But grandma did get whipped when she broke a plate, because those were so hard to replace.

The real issue is water. Rainwater was collected in a cistern and used for everything. Grandma told me how one hired man didn't want to use the outhouse one cold winter's night and pissed out the window. That meant they couldn't use the snow later for drinking water.

If they can get flour, the women of the house would make their own bread and biscuits. They would use very little sugar, because they couldn't grow it.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

blacbird
06-04-2016, 12:51 AM
If there are apples on the property or near it, they would keep a barrel of them in the basement or outdoor cold cellar; and they'd eat the bad ones first to keep those from infecting the rest.

The major way apples were "kept" was in the form of cider.

caw

Katharine Tree
06-04-2016, 02:06 AM
Apples aren't native to the Americas. Your settlers will have to plant their own orchard--from seed. Unless they've been in the area at least ten years, more like twenty, there won't be apples.

Siri Kirpal
06-04-2016, 03:50 AM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

By the mid-1800s, which is what the OP wants, apples were comparatively common in North America. Don't think they'd made it all the way to Washington & Oregon where they are now a big cash crop, but most places in the Midwest would have had them. The outer reaches of the prairies wouldn't have, so yes, OP, where exactly you place your family has a lot to do with what they'll eat.

As far as storage goes, cider certainly for the UK. But not in the dryer portions of the Midwest, which is where my own information comes from. I'll repeat that if you're storing any fruit or vegetable and don't have refrigeration, you eat the worst stuff first, because that way it lasts longer. Grandma used to say she got so tired of eating bad apples.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

AW Admin
06-04-2016, 03:57 AM
Even Washington state had apples by 1850: http://www.applejournal.com/wa00.htm


The first apple trees were planted in Fort Vancouver between 1827 and 1829.

WeaselFire
06-04-2016, 04:03 AM
Okay, 1856 Ohio, my mom's family had a small ranch/farm/homestead. Meals were beef or pork, corn, potatoes, breads and biscuits, seasonal fruit, chicken, eggs and cow's milk. They didn't raise goats but many did. They traded eggs for flour and other staples. They didn't raise grains but all sorts of vegetables. They had apples, but according to the diary my mom had of one of her grandparents, the apples were sour and mostly got fed to the hogs or turned into hard cider. They had quite a range of garden vegetables that changed by season, but corn and potatoes were the staples for much of the year. They had pumpkins and squash in the fall harvest and sold/bartered some for other winter staples like dried beans. They pickled/canned everything known to man, from fruits and vegetables to beef and pork. My grandfather (mom's dad) was the last to own and work a farm and the last to cure bacon. WWII got my mom's family off the farm and into store-bought food. The Civil War scattered them across the Midwest but most stayed as farmers.

I still can and pickle though. :)

Jeff

Lauram6123
06-04-2016, 04:23 AM
Johnny Appleseed had come and gone by then, so at least in Ohio and the surrounding areas, people could enjoy the fruits of his labors.

blacbird
06-04-2016, 04:32 AM
Johnny Appleseed (aka John Chapman) was no mythical character. He actually did travel across frontier North America planting apple trees, out of a kind of holy calling. He died in 1845. So, yes, there were apples available by the mid-19th century.

There are also native apples (genus Malus in central North America, although the fruits aren't really edible. They are fantastically fragrant, however; I've encountered these small trees on hikes in the Midwest.

caw

Siri Kirpal
06-04-2016, 06:49 AM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Grandma also mentioned gooseberries (which became illegal to grow in the US after her era due to disease problems) especially in pie (my Mom used to make gooseberry pie on Grandma's birthday from canned berries, very tart, and required a lot of sugar), paw-paws (which I've never seen or tasted). Her parents raised pigs, chickens, cows, and corn. Not sure about wheat. Probably other vegetables she didn't mention. They made their own butter from the cow's milk; meat was smoked to preserve it. And yes, eggs were used to trade for other commodities.

By the way, garlic was rarely grown in that era in America, ditto with broccoli and cauliflower. So don't include them, unless your ranchers are Italian.

Cooking was usually by woodstove. (Unless you're on the prairie and there are no trees.) The women cooked and the men split the wood.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

stupidname1313
06-04-2016, 07:33 AM
Thank you all for you comments. These are all very useful for my story.

Ozziezumi
06-05-2016, 10:00 PM
Can't speak for ranchers in general, but stories about past generations of my family ranching around Superior, Arizona involved beans, softboiled eggs, and tortillas. And sometimes rattlesnake prepared in a stew, although that wouldn't have been common (they apparently taste a lot like chicken).